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KFOR Commander Says Political Solution Needed In Northern Kosovo

German General Erhard Buhler, commander of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo
PRISTINA -- The head of NATO's peacekeeping force in Kosovo has said the situation in northern Kosovo requires a political solution, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Erhard Buehler, the German general who is the commander of KFOR, said that "the situation as far as security is concerned is complicated, but the problem cannot be solved only with military means."

He promised to provide all necessary support for police and the international police force EULEX (the European Union's Rule of Law Mission) in their actions in northern Kosovo.

Buehler urged Serbian and Kosovar politicians to start a dialogue to resolve disputes. He said KFOR is waiting for Pristina-Belgrade talks and that only after such talks can the NATO force in Kosovo discuss its plan of action regarding the creation by Kosovar Serbs of parallel structures in the north.

Buehler said KFOR is prepared for any situation and can be deployed in a matter of minutes if Kosovo police or EULEX forces ask for assistance.

KFOR was deployed in the wake of a 78-day air campaign by NATO in 1999 against Serbian forces. KFOR has around 10,000 troops from 31 countries. Buehler took over command of KFOR on September 1.

Kosovo Serbs -- who make up less than 10 percent of Kosovo's population -- have a majority north of the Ibar River in Kosovo and reject the authority of Kosovar institutions. They have direct links with Belgrade and participate in Serbian institutions. The area has its own local structures which are considered illegal by the Kosovar government.

The vast majority of Kosovo Serbs in that region have avoided participation in local or general elections organized by Pristina. Ethnic Serbs in other parts of Kosovo participated in the last local elections and are active in the decentralization process as designated in the Ahtisaari Plan.

Kosovo declared independence based on the Ahtisaari Plan in February 2008 and has been recognized by 70 countries.